Monday, August 22, 2011


I've been less patient lately. No, that's putting it wrong. Every day I work with students taking a long time to process responses to what's been said, and I must wait while others try to understand my broken-ass Chinese. In these instances, I'm in no rush. At worst, somebody won't understand me, but I won't be lost, only delayed. Here I have enough money and know the layout well enough—how strange to have grown so accustomed to a life in a different language.

What I really mean to say is, I've been calling shenanigans more and more often. A good example of this is in dealing with cab drivers. Before 10 p.m., the fare's supposed to be eight yuan up to a certain distance (because Kaifqu's so small, you rarely have to pay more than eight, and so I forget what the distance is before it changes). However, if it's raining, the drivers charge ten yuan. There's no rule that says they can do this, but that doesn't stop them. And the range of the definition of rain includes "like, well, even though it's not raining now, it rained this morning"—that kind of "rain."

Last week the Bear and I took a cab on a day heavy with clouds but without any rain. We had trouble getting a cab at first. Every one of them passed with their signs illuminated, but every one of them had people in them. "Shit," I said to the Bear, "they're not running their meters." When the meter's running, the sign's dark. We hopped in a cab, and I asked how much.


"{But it's not raining.}"


We hopped out. After asking a few more drivers how much a ride would cost, I checked my wallet and said, "Let's get in the next one."

When we pulled up to the hotel with the Indian restaurant in it, I passed eight yuan up to the driver. "{It's ten.}"

"{No, it's not}," I said.

"{Ten!}" he yelled.

"{Thanks.}" And we got out.

The Bear was kind of shocked at this. "{Can you do that?}"

"I do it all the time. Why should I pay extra?"

And it's not like it has anything to do with my being a foreigner. Being charged more for "rain" happens to Chinese folks too. "Do you pay it?" I ask.

The answer I always get is "Of course. What choice do we have?" which is the refrain for so many things: pushing in the streets, change thrown rather than placed in the hand, shoddy work, etc. Life becomes a process of putting up with bullshit. As my buddy put it, it's no longer bribery when everybody knows about it; it's just the fee.

I used to feel split about sticking up for myself, if I'm honest. You're in their country, so you've gotta follow their rules, goes the argument. Except the rules are so often broken. I am following the rules.

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